LISD board rejects mask mandate
By Miles Smith
Lockhart ISD will not join other school districts in Texas that have chosen to make facial coverings mandatory for teachers and students to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 amid concerns about the Delta variant of the virus.
A motion made by District 1 Trustee Dr. Barbara Sanchez at a Monday night meeting of the Lockhart Board of Trustees to defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s order prohibiting mask mandates by local governments and require the wearing of facial coverings on campuses was soundly defeated in a 2-5 vote.
“It really falls on us — our mission statement says that we need to create a safe environment,” said Sanchez, an independent literacy consultant with a background in education spanning more than 40 years, according to her bio on the LISD website, who cited the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance urging mask wearing for all individuals regardless of vaccination status. “We’re in a pandemic, the virus is constantly changing, and it’s occurring here in our district.”
District 2 Trustee Rene Rayos was the only other member of the board to side with Sanchez on the vote.
Voting against Sanchez’s motion were Board President Steve Johnson and trustees Tom Guyton, Sam Lockhart, Warren Burnett, and Michael Wright.
Johnson said he believed it set a bad example for teachers, principals and students to defy Abbott. The board president said the only reason school districts were able to pass mask mandates was because district court judges had granted them temporary restraining orders against Abbott’s executive order.
“The governor put out an order, and if there wasn’t a county against the governor, there wouldn’t be a temporary restraining order,” Johnson said at the meeting. “We would be going against what the governor is saying. If we go against the governor, what’s to say one of our teachers or students or principals says ‘I know better than you do.’
“That’s us saying that we know better than the governor or any of his medical advisors. It’s (setting) a precedent. If you don’t like what someone says above you, you just don’t have to do it. I don’t have a problem with mask wearing — if you want to wear a mask you can, if you don’t that’s fine. But it says to students/teachers that if you don’t want to listen to someone in power, you don’t have to.”
Guyton said he felt it was premature to vote on a mask mandate.
“I just wish this whole issue hadn’t become so politicized throughout this whole pandemic,” he said, noting that his children wear masks and he as a teacher wears his at school. “I do think when you’re in close confined quarters and can’t distance you should wear a mask, and that’s my personal feeling.
“We are at a point where we need to see where this plays itself out in the legal system. Do what you have to do to keep yourself safe and the others around you safe. We’re going to catch colds, going to catch the flu, (children are) going to get sick and catch some things. Just don’t think that tonight we’re in a spot we can mandate something right now.”
During the public comment period, two parents spoke against a potential mask mandate, and one citizen spoke in favor of one.
Superintendent Mark Estrada said that if parent feedback he’s received is any indication, mask mandates were not as much of a hot button issue in Lockhart ISD as in some other Texas school districts.
The superintendent said he’s heard from fewer than a dozen parents calling for a mask mandate, despite vaccination rates being lower in the 12-18 age range than in other sections of the population. About 40 parents have expressed the wish for a full-time virtual learning option, he said, which is not an option due to a lack of funding and teacher resources.
The superintendent’s feedback aligns with what Lockhart school officials said in July when they unveiled their pandemic response plan for the 2021-2022 school year. The plan included continuing education, transparency, regular self-screening among teachers and employees, virtual tutoring for sick students and hygiene and sanitation protocols.
In creating its protocol for the upcoming school year, Brents said the district sought guidance from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, the Texas Education Agency and its employees.
The district plans to continue sending home letters when a student has been potentially exposed to a case of COVID-19, and will continue to maintain its case dashboard to give the community an accurate case count.
The district has posted the document it calls Leading Forward 2021-22 on its website in English and Spanish. It can be found under “Quicklinks” at the top of the district’s website.
Masks were required indoors and outdoors during much of the 2020-21 school year.
The CDC’s latest guidance recommends local jurisdictions encourage universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Estrada said that while there was no mandate, the district urged students and teachers to wear masks.
By and large, they’re following that guideline, he said.
“As I’ve been on campuses every day, I’m encouraged by how many students and their parents are following our guidelines,” said Estrada, who estimated between 65-70 percent of students were masking up.